>> At first sight, it's hard to figure out what these North Koreans are doing on the ice, fishing, maybe? It was a scene we saw during a reporting trip along the Chinese-North Korean border. As it turns out, it's daily occurrence along this river. And desperate business that's overseen by the North Korean state.
I am Reuter's Suling Wong, in Linjiang on the border of China and North Korea. It's currently minus one degrees here. And we've just come across a very unusual sight, in the river behind me where North Koreans are wearing rubber suits and snorkeling masks diving for gold, according to what Chinese locals have told me.
They come in winter and in summer, rain or shine, and earn less than US $2 a day from this kind of work.>>
> If they caught by China, they just get sent back. China won't really punish them, but for the North Korean side, it's hard to say.>> U.N monitors say, Pyeongyang violate it sanctions, to earn nearly $200 million in 2017.
There's loads of gold there.>> North Korea has an estimated 2,000 tons of gold reserves. The sixth largest in the world according to South Korea. This region here accounts for about 60% of that. Many in army uniforms watch over the divers, and experts say each branch of the military and security ministry does this kind of gold mining.
The trading is mainly done by the Chinese, who buy gold from North Korea for cash, to sell in China and to the rest of the world. But recent sanctions are making trade difficult. And that means making a living has become harder for many North Koreans. Since Kim Jong-un stepped up weapons tests in 2017, the UN upped sanctions to match, and China has been enforcing them vigilantly.
So now, North Koreans, quietly cross the border to make trades illegally, usually under the cover of night.
Chances are, you might own a piece of gold from North Korea, only with a sticker that says, Made in China.